Making Sure the Empty Nest Doesn't Turn Into an Empty Heart

13 ways to rejuvenate your marriage

Posted Jan 07, 2017

Statistics reveal that the rate of divorce has doubled for those over 50. As a college professor, this strikes me as a significant time marker since many parents of college students and college-bound students are very close to that age.

Wilson Sanchez/ Unsplash
Source: Wilson Sanchez/ Unsplash

When kids venture off to college, it can be a “What now?” moment for parents, both in terms of what to do with themselves and the direction of their own careers and lives and also in terms of the direction of their intimate relationships.

The very questions that plague our students interestingly manifest for parents in these tender moments of transition: “Who I am I?” and “What should I do with my life?” For parents, these questions are often very bound up with the quality and well being of the marriage or relationship they find themselves in.

With prevalent patterns of self-sacrificial parenting and relationship-sacrificial parenting, it is important to examine the warning signs for hitting the re-set button on your marriage.

Here, we’ll look at some warning signs for needing to hit the re-set button and some ideas for what we can do about it:

1) Kissing with as much passion as picking up your car keys

2) Realizing that 99% of all the conversations involve the kids, or finally going out for a dinner date alone and discovering all you talked about were the kids

3) Eating meals together looking at your phones or the newspaper

4) Realizing you don’t know your spouse’s favorite singer and authors or the names of adult friends not connected to the children, etc.

5) Not picking up on your partner’s suggestions for doing something out of the ordinary, such as a daytrip, outing, or other sort of adventure or not picking up on their cues to share an experience or memory.

6) Trying to remember the last time you had sex

7) Not remembering the last time you had an interesting conversation with your partner

8) Not remembering the last time you affectionately and playfully grabbed your partner and/or were grabbed by your partner

9) Brushing up against your partner or bumping into your partner and saying “Sorry” as though this was a stranger on public transportation

10) Not having something to look forward to together such as trips, concerts, a date night, outings, etc.

11) Realizing that your child or children know more about your partner’s likes and dislikes than you do

12) Feeling you are unable to express your concerns to your partner because you are afraid she or he will perceive it as criticism and it will result in argument

13) Staying at work later, or staying out when doing errands, just to avoid getting back home and interacting

Here are some things you can do (these assume you are in a relatively healthy, non-abusive relationship):

1) Set aside thirty minutes or an hour together to talk, perhaps meeting for coffee, or going out for dinner, or taking a walk---- and the conversation cannot reference the kid’s names or anything about the kids. The first person to break the rules has to give the other person a back rub.

2) Create a technology-free night once a week or a technology free weekend day----no phones, no televisions, no Internet.

3) Play a board game together. Or, go to Target and buy games and favorite snacks together and come home for a fun slumber party. 

4) On a vacation, or even on a date night, each person is allotted $20 to go buy fun gifts for the other person. Both meet back up one hour later at a designated restaurant or coffee shop to hang out together, have a meal and exchange gifts.

5) Take a day trip together in the car---or even just a long car ride---with no destination and just talk. Often, time in cars generates interesting conversations because people are not looking at each other and start to say what is on their mind or get more dreamy and creative with expression and with questions.

6) Sit on the couch with a glass of wine or cup of tea and talk with your partner, with no music or TV in the background, and look at them with beginner’s mind----using the same fresh attention you brought to them on your first few dates years ago.

7) Have sex. Bring back oral sex. It is often intimate in a different way, and it’s much more intimate when it’s not unidirectional. Chances are good that having sex makes you want to have it again more often. Chances are also good that having sex makes you want to exercise and take good care of yourself and feel more embodied all around.

8) When at the grocery store, pick up your partner’s favorite food item that’s nutritious and shows you care and remembered----maybe it’s pears or kiwi or a special cheese.

9) Try hugging your partner and not letting go. Stay in the hug as long as you want and can. Try this again, staying in it even longer each time you do it. Notice when and why you or your partner usually pulls away and breaks the hug. Also, observe how you hug and how your partner hugs---is it close, is it a pat on the back and shoulders, is it a full body, open-hearted hug that lingers? As my yoga teacher says at class during certain poses, open the space of your heart.  One of my best memories of any date I have ever had was when my partner, Mike, and I were on our second date and hugged for the length of a movie---quite literally over 90 minutes!---at a romantic waterfront spot in downtown Charleston.

10) Try daily nurturance. Ever since our first date, Mike has sent me an e-mail every morning for years. Some are hysterically funny, others are romantic, some are haikus, others contain pictures, some include random lists of things I should know about him. It might be the single most important thing anyone has ever done in a relationship with me because it does so much---it tells me he is thinking of me first thing in the morning, it makes us feel connected, it’s something he knows I count on and adore, it’s a ritual that has created a history for us and sometimes we even go back and read the e-mails out loud over red wine. It’s wildly intimate to experience that sort of steady, daily love and care.

11) Every month or so, I send Mike a card or a little care package or leave him notes in unusual places.

12) Give your partner a cute nickname that signifies something special about the bond you share, and it can’t be the generic ones like sweetie, honey, and cutie pie.

13) Find ways to do nothing together as well as something together--- and to love your partner both ways.

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